Tuesday, August 31, 2010

30 Days of Fashion and Beauty

Autumn fashion trends are in full swing and although London Fashion Week may be ‘trade only’ and off limits to us mere mortals, there is no need to miss out on all that is hip and happening this season in the UK’s fashion hotspots.

This September, the UK’s National Magazine Company is bringing us a stylish month long festival celebrating the best of fashion and beauty. Offering a great calendar of events, exhibits, fashion and beauty news, great giveaways and offers, 30 Days of Fashion and Beauty is a great way to keep on top of fashion and beauty trends this autumn and have fun while you are doing it. 

From great fashion exhibits including Grace Kelly Style Icon at the V&A and Vivienne Westwood’s Shoe Retrospective at Selfridges, to pamper evenings at the Dermalogica Powder Room,  fashion awards parties and even designer warehouse sales, 30 Days of Fashion and Beauty is your resource for all that is fashionable this autumn in the capital and beyond.

Don’t wait another minute - Click HERE to go to the 30 Days website and find out all that is happening this side of the pond in celebration of autumn’s wonderful fashion and beauty trends.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Meatless Monday

Please check out this week's Meatless Monday recipe on my main site by clicking here

You can also check out another one of my Meatless Monday recipes - Tofu Stir Fry with Hoisin Sauce - on The 21st Century Housewife's Kitchen by clicking here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Not So Hidden Gem

Last weekend one of our friends came to visit and we decided to show her around Reading in Berkshire. There’s tons of shops and restaurants there, but it is also a really historic place with a beautiful town hall. In fact, it turns out it is even more historic than I realised.

Just a short walk from the town hall lie the beautiful Forbury Gardens. I’ve walked round the edges before but have never really explored very far into the gardens which are beautifully landscaped with some gorgeous flower beds.

I particularly like how they have used edible Rainbow Chard as a feature plant in the flower bed in the picture just above.

This visit we wandered a little further into the gardens.  First, we found a very non-traditional war memorial which is a simple stone plaque surrounded by flowers. It’s really beautiful.

We then walked over a small hill and found some lovely places to sit. The buildings surrounding the gardens are very historic as well and include Reading Gaol, where Oscar Wilde was famously imprisoned. There is also a church, and a school that Jane Austen is said to have attended.

The thing that surprised me most was that there are actually the ruins of an Abbey on the edge of the gardens.  I had absolutely no idea there had been an Abbey in Reading.

Sadly Oliver Cromwell did knock it about rather a lot on the orders of Henry VIII, and what was left is crumbling so badly it is fenced off, but these walls were originally built on the order of Henry I in the early 1100‘s. He built Reading Abbey to be his final resting place and was buring there in 1135.  No trace of his tomb remains, but a large cross in his memory has been placed in the gardens themselves. From the signs on the fences surrounding the ruins it appears they are attempting to preserve them and excavate any antiquities they may hold.

I’m a huge history buff, and I can’t believe that all this was only a few miles from where I live, and I had absolutely no idea. It really is worth investigating and exploring your local area because there are often hidden gems you may well have missed, particularly if you have not lived there a long time, but sometimes even if you have!

And if you do visit Reading, don’t miss these beautiful gardens and their historic, not so hidden Abbey!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sweet Thursday at Simply Sweet Home

sweet Thursday

Jerri over at Simply Sweet Home is hosting Sweet Thursday today and she has very kindly featured my Healthy Eton Mess. (Unfortunately the link to it on her site isn’t working at the moment but I’m sure it will be fixed soon.)

Sweet Thursday is all about fruity desserts this month so click HERE to go on over and get some great recipe ideas as well as linking up your own favourite fruity dessert recipes!

If I Can Garden, Anyone Can Garden

Up until this year, I really felt that vegetable gardening was the preserve of the experts – people who had been gardening for years and knew what they were doing. I had gardened with my Dad as a child, and I always thought of him as someone who knew everything. I pictured our older friends, the ones who grew prize zucchinis and Ken, a man my husband used to work with. He often had a glut of vegetables and was very willing to share, coming round with huge, snowy white cauliflowers and beautiful cabbages on a Saturday morning and leaving me with my arms full of enough produce to feed us for the week. He’d never accept a penny for it either. 

Inspired by him, I did try growing vegetables one year when my son was little, digging a bed about ten feet by six feet in the corner of our garden, but I had limited success aside from my scallions, which were beautiful, but not much reward for quite a lot of effort.

It took me until this year, after more than ten years and two successful flower gardens, to get my courage up to try again. I had been growing the odd tomato plant in a pot, and nursing along some herbs on my windowsill, and as they didn’t up and die on me I figured I might as well have a go. So when the garden in our newest house was landscaped last year, I asked them to include two raised beds for vegetables.

I did a little research and early this year I ordered plug plants from an organic supplier. I also supplemented this with some purchases from a wonderful plant stand at our local farmer’s market. I was too nervous to start from seeds and I thought that at least if the plants started out strong they might have a chance of success in spite of the inexperience of their gardener.  

I thoroughly enjoyed planning where everything would go and planting them up, and was really pleased when I stepped back and looked at what I’d accomplished.

My biggest worry was that a month later we were heading off to California for two weeks, and I really didn’t feel I could ask a neighbour to water as they might feel they had to do our whole garden. My vegetable garden is small, but my whole garden is something else entirely. I decided, very selfishly, to pray for rain while we were away. On our return, I was greeted by this:-

Not only had my prayers had been answered, but I can truly say that this garden was thriving on neglect. This was a very good thing. I’m not good at regular weeding, and although I will water if I am here, I am often travelling.  Indeed, less than a month later we were off again on a family holiday for two weeks. In the meantime we ate very well indeed from our garden. As for when we went away, I’m told it didn’t rain as much this time, but clearly, it was enough as when we got back, well, I just tell folks that it was like the garden had exploded.

I wondered if my tomatoes were actually trying to take over the world as they spilled out over the sides of the beds, vines heavy with ripening tomatoes. No one left our house empty handed, they had to take produce with them, especially zucchini which we ate practically every day for weeks– in cakes, as side dishes, you name it, I made it. We had fresh beans and peas, tons of beautiful tomatoes, and while the lettuces had finally begun to go to seed, I was still managing to get salads from the garden too. Not long afterwards, I pulled out some of the plants that had begun to stop producing, as well as the lettuces, and put in some new plug plants. I’m now enjoying the last of the first crop and looking forward to the second.

I’m not a good gardener. My friend is out in her garden every day weeding and tweaking, if only for a few minutes. Aside from going out to harvest, my poor garden only gets frantic bursts of activity about once or twice a week. And yet I have had so much produce from it I have hardly had to buy any vegetables this summer, except a few favourites from the farmer’s market.

In short, I honestly believe that anyone can grow vegetables. You will have disappointments – my carrots resembled tiny extra-terrestrial creatures and had so many extra bits growing off them I couldn’t even manage to peel them. Nine corn plants resulted in only two edible corn cobs – one that looked normal, and one that at less than four inches long is a perfect, tiny replica of what a corn cob is meant to be.  However these disappointments will be well outweighed by the sheer joy of growing something – even if it is just one pot – and by eating the freshest vegetables you possibly can. Look what I accomplished with so very little effort! Heaven knows what you can achieve it you really go for it.

I’m now researching autumn gardens and investigating growing things in pots into the cooler weather. I was thrilled to learn that parsnips actually taste better if you harvest them after the first frosts. The me who hesitantly commissioned two raised vegetable beds in her garden last year would never believe how far the garden and I have come.

So don’t hesitate a moment longer, look into growing some vegetables of your own. And if it is too late to start where you live this year, grow something inside in pots on your windowsill (herbs and salad are good) while you plan next year’s garden – even it that will only be a few pots on a very small patio, or an extension of your window sill garden. Never has the old adage “size doesn’t matter” been more true than when it comes to gardens. And I cannot tell you how much confidence it has given me to know that I am capable not only of cooking food for my family, but of growing it too. Go on, get growing! You will be the richer for it – both in terms of your well-being and your wallet.

Linking up with:-
Simple Lives Thursday

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Copley Square Hotel, Boston

While were were on holiday in July we made another visit to Boston but this time we stayed in a hotel I had never been to before. My husband had heard good things about The Copley Square Hotel from his work colleagues and so we decided to give it a try.

Located at 47 Huntington Avenue in the Copley Square area, the hotel is ideally situated for sightseeing or business in Boston. The staff are very welcoming and friendly and the accommodation is of a really high standard. We booked one of their family suites, which consisted of two full bedrooms and a bathroom off a spacious hallway. The hotel offers free wireless internet throughout and both rooms had their own 42” LCD televisions. The decor is really lovely, just what you would expect of a boutique property and the beds were seriously comfortable.  The bathroom was small but perfectly formed.

The public areas of the hotel have a cool modern yet retro vibe that was sympathetic to the original building, itself far from a new addition to the Boston’s landscape.

We ate in Xhale, the hotel restaurant, the evening we arrived and at breakfast one morning. (The hotel very kindly gave us each one free breakfast voucher.)  The food was exceptional on both occasions. For dinner I particularly recommend their scrumptious Bruschetta made with Roma tomatoes, their Clam Chowder and their Fettucini Scampi. I had a very nice omelette at breakfast and my husband and son enjoyed The Bostonian which had two eggs cooked to order, breakfast potato and your choice of ham, bacon or sausage served with toast or English muffin.

The hotel offers a complimentary wine hour for guests from 5 to 6 pm each evening in the lobby, and if you fancy a drink later on, their cocktail lounge - cleverly named the ‘minibar’ - offers drinks and light snacks. We had nightcaps here on two evenings and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

So if you are planning a visit to Boston, do check out the Copley Square Hotel. There’s lots of information and special offers on their website, which you can visit by clicking here.

The 21st Century Housewife was not paid or compensated for this post in any way.The three breakfast vouchers I was given were neither connected with this personal review nor did they influence it.

Some Great New Recipes

I've been participating in some recipe link ups and blog parties on my main site, so if you have not visited my blog there recently, please check out the links below!
Tofu Stir Fry with Hoisin Sauce
Chicken and Almond Salad

Blackberry and Apple Spice Cake

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's Time to 'Start'

Start is a new initiative by HRH The Prince of Wales’ Prince’s Charities Foundation to help people live more sustainably. By promoting and celebrating sustainable living, Start hopes to make a real difference to our environment. Partnered and supported by a number of large and small companies and organisations, Start plans to help people make small changes that could make a big difference. Their video explains more.

The premise of the video is that there is so much information out there, much of it confusing, that people simply don’t know where to begin and so they don’t begin at all. The video suggests that by taking small steps we can effect big changes in the long term. In short, all we really need to do is ‘start’.

Start also want to empower people by presenting an inspiring picture of a sustainable future. Their research shows that many people find the language used around climate change to be so negative, it actually puts them off rather than inspiring action. Start is not about what ‘not’ to do, it’s about what you ‘can’ do. By highlighting good practice and celebrating examples of sustainable living, Start hope to motivate and influence individuals to make changes in their own lives. 

Their website is a rich source of easy to understand information with ideas that anyone can use effectively to reduce their carbon footprint and help the environment. Some of them can even help you save money!

There are lots of events going on across the UK this autumn, including a nine-day summit where UK business leaders will debate the next steps to sustainability, a five day train tour on a coal fired steam locomotive by the Prince of Wales highlighting sustainable community action, and the Prince of Wales’ A Garden Party to Make a Difference to be held in the grounds of Lancaster House, Marlborough House and the official London residence of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, Clarence House. The garden party, which is being held daily from 8th to 19th September, will feature fashion, food, entertainment, concerts, home and garden displays, and even debates by everyone from celebrity gardeners and chefs to David Frost and the UK’s Chief Scientist Sir John Beddington. There will be cooking advice and demonstrations, a farmer’s market, fashion upcycling workshops by leading designers of recycled clothing and even an opportunity to learn how to make useful bags out of old fabric- some of it is the Prince of Wales’ old curtains! Music and activities for the kids make this a great family day out too. Tickets are priced at £7.50 for children and £15 for adults, and are available from Start. Click here for more details.

For those twelve days in September the place to be in London will definitely be at A Garden Party to Make a Difference, so if you can be in the London area do plan to attend. If you can’t attend, check out the Start website for more ideas about how to get involved and make a ‘start’ towards living more sustainably today!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Big Rewards from Baby Steps to Sustainability

I’m thoroughly enjoying my vegetable garden this year. It’s bringing me a huge amount of pleasure, and the vegetables and fruit we are getting from it taste so much better than store bought. But is my very small contribution really making a tangible difference to my footprint on this planet or to promoting local, seasonal food? Let’s face it, my garden is not producing even half of the fruit and vegetables my family and I actually consume, and while I may shop at local shops and farmer’s markets as much as possible I would estimate that forty percent of my food budget is still being spent at the supermarket. So is it all this effort really worth it?

Absolutely, positively, definitively - Yes!

Certainly I am doing things on a small scale. While I’m blessed to have a really big garden I was not prepared to convert it all to food production - mostly because I really love my flowers. Some people might question how a couple of raised beds and a few pots could make a real difference to how and what we eat, but my experience is proof positive that even gardening on a small scale can change both your lifestyle and how you eat. I can’t count the number of times this year I have invented a new recipe based solely on what I could harvest from the garden - even if it was only a handful of this and a handful of that. It’s given me a whole new outlook. Instead of planning weeks in advance, I’m experiencing a new spontaneity in my cooking and the rewards are enormous, both in terms of taste and eating experience. There is nothing like dining on something that was actually growing not half an hour earlier, and that travelled less than fifty feet to get to your plate.

While my one blueberry plant is not going to make even a dent in my family’s blueberry consumption (we love this superfruit!) and my six little strawberry plants are definitely not enough for a banquet, the fruit we eat from our plants reminds us of where our food really comes from - and it really does taste amazing. So yes, even a small vegetable garden or a few pots - even one pot - can make a difference.

In fact, the UK’s leading gardening charity, Garden Organic, have launched the One Pot Pledge to encourage people to grow their own produce on however small a scale. Over 10,000 people have already to pledged to do this. Think of the effect that could have on what and how they eat and also on the environment. One pot may not be a lot, but 10,000 plus sure are! The same holds true wherever you live. Even if you only grow a little, it has a positive effect on a much wider scale. With or without a garden, you can produce some of the food you eat. It’s amazing what will grow in patio pots or in a pot on the windowsill.

So yes, gardening on a small scale does promote sustainability, local and seasonal food. Even the smallest effort has an effect, and is totally worth the effort. So if you haven’t already, don’t hesitate a moment longer - get growing! You’ll be very glad you did.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An Evening in the West End

I love the theatre, so the West End of London is one of my favourite parts of that iconic city. I’m not the only one in my family who likes it either - my son has been studying acting and music in his spare time since he was little, and has had the opportunity to perform there a number of times both at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the Haymarket. 

He spent last week at West End Stage, a wonderful theatrical summer school that he has attended for the last four years. Taught by professional working actors, singers, dancers and directors, its a great opportunity for young people aged 8 to 21 to learn about the world of the theatre from industry professionals and West End stars. It’s an intense course, with back to back classes in acting, singing, dancing, stage combat and other acting techniques. Great friendships develop, particularly amongst the residential students, and the young people look forward to seeing each other every year. Newcomers are always welcomed too - and everyone is sad when the end of the week arrives, despite the excitement of the big performance at the theatre that hosts “Phantom of the Opera” virtually every other night.

The performance is always a great ensemble piece, with everyone getting to show off their strengths. It’a lovely to see the kids who were really nervous when they arrived the first night absolutely shining with confidence on stage. Whatever you want to do in life, the ability to stand in front of an audience and perform or speak is such a valuable life skill. And of course, like any parents, my husband and I always love watching our son perform and seeing how he has developed in that week of intense training. He has always had a gift for singing and acting, but some performances are special. As for this year, well, there is something very cool about hearing a seriously wonderful voice echoing round a West End Theatre and realising the person it is coming from is your son - and seeing from the looks on other people’s faces round you that they think it sounds pretty wonderful too.

The happiness and confidence beaming out of the children and young people we saw on stage on Sunday night - well - it was a joy to see. It certainly defied all the gloomy folks who say that young people in these days of economic uncertainty and societal change have little to be optimistic about. We left the theatre walking on air - and our son is already looking forward to next year.

Do visit my main site for more posts including Meatless Monday and my recipe for the Tuesday Recipe Swaps.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Gorgeous Inspiration From Boston's Gardens

One of the things that really stood out for me on our recent holiday was the amazing gardens in Boston.  The use of colours - both contrasting and complementing - and a huge variety of plants gave the whole city an extra-special beauty. 

There were stunning green borders accented by shots of yellow and red,

as well as bright and blowsy burgundies, purples and pinks.

There were some amazing flower beds in the Boston Public Gardens, both in warm colours,

and cooler ones.

But most of all, there were just so many trees!

Boston really has a totally gorgeous urban landscape, and is great inspiration for gardening at home – albeit on a much smaller scale!

Grace Kelly - Style Icon


Yesterday I visited a wonderful exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London showcasing the wardrobe of the the beautiful Princess Grace of Monaco and celebrating her life.

Featuring her film costumes, items from her trousseau and many of the haute couture gowns she wore in her real life role as Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco, the collection is a wardrobe timeline of her progress from movie star to princess - and her life as consort to Prince Rainier of Monaco. Accompanied by two film reels of archive footage of her life, the exhibition is a real pleasure to go through. This was a woman who really loved and wore her clothes, often much more than once. One of her famous Herm√®s bags, the Kelly that was named after her, is part of the exhibition. Do you know what I loved about it? It was clearly a handbag she actually used. Although beautiful and well cared for, the bag does have the odd scuff and mark on it. A traditional museum piece it isn’t - and that is what makes it so wonderful. From the 1955 McCall’s pattern dress she met her prince in to the costume headdress so tall she had to travel to the ball on the floor of a van, this is the wardrobe of an extraordinary woman.

The light in the exhibition wasn’t really suitable for picture taking (something I think was done on purpose to protect the collection), but I did take one photograph of this beautiful piece.

Definitely a fairy tale princess dress - and though I know that fairy tales don’t always come true even for princesses, Grace Kelly certainly appeared to be the embodiment of one.

Having seem so many press photos of Grace Kelly at balls and state occasions when I was growing up, it was fascinating to see the actual clothes from photographs. But even if that wasn’t the case, I would have loved looking at the many wonderful clothes, costumes and accessories showcased in this exhibition.

Well worth a visit if you find yourself in London, do be sure to book in advance as getting tickets for this popular exhibition on the day is nearly impossible. The exhibition runs until 26th September. For more information you can click on the banner at the top of this blog entry, or here. To book tickets, click here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Beautiful University of Oxford Botanic Gardens

Oxford, the beautiful home of the oldest university in the English speaking world is also home to the oldest botanic garden in Britain. Founded as the Physic Garden in 1621 for the study of medicinal plants, today it still to supports the university’s teaching programmes and research scientists. The most compact yet diverse collection of plants in the world, it is also a part of many plant conservation projects.

My husband and I visited the Oxford Botanic Gardens yesterday with our friends and had a wonderful day. It’s a very welcoming place and benches everywhere invite you to sit down and just drink in your surroundings. We saw lots of people yesterday just eating their sandwiches and reading their books in the sunshine.

There are three glasshouses, a rose garden, a gorgeous walled garden, a water garden and a rock garden, all set amongst some beautiful architecture. The walled garden was so beautiful - I have never seen borders like the ones I saw there. A riot of colour, they stretched on for ages, and were feeding lots of lovely bees and butterflies.

The glasshouses, which appeared small from the outside, were anything but small on the inside, containing thousands of plants. They were also incredibly biologically diverse.

Check out these lily pads - big enough for a whole frog convention!

As you walk through the hallways of the glasshouses, you are surrounded by plants. It’s impossible not to touch them and you feel quite surrounded - a bit like you were actually in the jungle.

Outside, they also still have dozens of medicinal gardens, all divided into sections according to the medical conditions the plants in them are used to treat.

It is fascinating seeing where so many of our modern lifesaving drugs began. And although the lawns may be beautifully manicured, you are positively encouraged to walk all the way round all the beds. Every single plant in these gardens is comprehensively labelled.

The architecture is gorgeous too, and really historic. The lead drain on the left of the archway in the photo below is dated 1780.

The Oxford University Botanic Gardens are a wonderful place to spend a few hours, and we are definitely planning a return visit.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Catching Up

Just to keep you updated on what is happening on my main site...I've participated in several blog carnivals with two very yummy recipes. Check out my Meatless Monday Delicious Vegetarian Hash  and Tuesday's Recipe Haddock with Guacamole Rice. And check out the blog carnivals as well for lots of delicious inspiration!

Also this is the last day for entries to my latest giveaway on The 21st Century Housewife's Kitchen. Click here for details of how to enter before it's too late!

Hope you are having a great week!

Monday, August 09, 2010

A Visit to Covent Garden

We had to take our son into London yesterday. He is attending a week long theatrical summer school called West End Stage which he goes to every year. After we dropped him off, it was coming up to dinner time so my husband suggested we head over to Covent Garden. I didn’t think much would be happening there as it was Sunday night, but was I ever wrong!

Our first stop had to be the brand new Apple store which opened on Saturday. I’ve been in a lot of Apple stores, in a lot of different places, and I have to say this one is just incredible. Apple have managed to take an existing historical building and work sympathetically to create a beautiful and awe-inspiring space. Although much of it is modern, including the incredible suspended glass staircases, they have somehow managed to make it all work with the existing building, and the skylights, stone floor and light wood used in the construction make it a beautiful bright space. The store is huge, and spread over three floors. It was absolutely packed with customers, but even if you are not into Apple products, the building is incredible.

But back to the more traditional side of Covent Garden, which dates back to the 1600’s and has been through many different incarnations, including a short stint as farm land! The current market building is celebrating its 180th birthday this year. In this space of time, Covent Garden has gone from being a fruit and vegetable market to a market place, with a huge number of high street stores - from L’Occitane to Hobbs - and restaurants sitting alongside smaller traders with market stalls selling everything from t-shirts to paintings.

We were going to go for a drink at The Punch and Judy, a famous pub. It has a balcony overlooking Covent Garden, but we had not been in for a number of years, and I was shocked at how downhill it has gone. We had some fun evenings with friends there in the past, but it looked to us like it really needs some refurbishment, so we decided to give it a miss and move on.

As we walked through the market building we suddenly heard really lovely singing.  A street performer was singing “On the Street Where You Live” in one of the open air restaurants. Suddenly, he turned to an elderly lady who had stopped to rest on one of the seats nearby and began to sing to her!

She really entered into the spirit of it, and they even danced!

That’s the sort of thing that happens in Covent Garden; it’s kind of magical, even though it is a bit rough round the edges. 

We had dinner in one of the open air restaurants called Ponti’s. The food was good, but I wasn’t impressed by the pigeons who kept trying to join us. The company was pretty wonderful though!

We wandered back through the market to collect our car, and I saw the lady we had seen dancing with the singer earlier, still shopping, but with a happy little smile on her face. It had been such an nice evening, I really knew how she felt!